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LGBTs to protest Madigan over marriage shortfall
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Finger-pointing over a failed push to pass equal marriage in Illinois this spring has been abundant since May's end, and LGBT activists are now eying the House's top Democrat.

Activists will protest outside Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's district office Saturday, June 15, citing what they say was a failure to prioritize equal marriage this year.

The decision to target Madigan was made at a community meeting held in Uptown June 11. More than 50 people attending the gathering, held at the Peoples Church of Chicago. No elected officials attended.

The meeting marked the first public forum held since Rep. Greg Harris, chief sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Act, announced that the bill lacked the votes needed to pass before spring session ended May 31. Some criticized Harris over the call to postpone a vote, stating that they wanted lawmakers forced on-record with a vote.

But at the Uptown meeting, speakers largely blamed Madigan, who they said should have wrangled support for the bill within the Democratic Caucus.

Among the most critical of Madigan was Gay Liberation Network co-founder Andy Thayer, who stated that the speaker needed "to whip his own damn caucus into line."

"Mike Madigan owns the House," said Thayer. "He just decided that he wasn't going to put any political capital in this."

Thayer and other GLN members called for a protest of Madigan, a call that was approved by a popular vote after some debate.

LGBT activist Andrea Crain moderated an extensive discussion on possible grassroots efforts to push the bill forward. Participants disagreed over whether or not supportive politicians should be punished for the lack of a vote, which many felt had been promised.

Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, advocated for rewarding politicians that had supported the bill, like Gov. Pat Quinn.

One attendee suggested that parade attendees stonewall politicians who decided not to call for a vote.

"If Harris shows up, I would love to see backs turned," the person said.

Others lamented the fact that organizing efforts have largely highlighted white activists.

Overall, participants advocated a need to react to the shortfall both immediately and over the long term, forcing elected officials to take the issue seriously through protest and grassroots pressure.

"They're always with you until it's time to stand up on the battlefield," said one person.

Joanie Rae Wimmer, a transgender advocate and attorney, suggested that the group start looking at primaries where undecided lawmakers can be replaced with supportive ones.

The group concluded with a decision to hold a rally in support of marriage equality on July 13, after June pride season wraps up, at a downtown Chicago location. They also discussed and tabled a decision on planning for a large-scale protest in Springfield timed for the fall veto session.

Among those criticizing the lack of a May vote were LGBT leaders within the Illinois Unites for Marriage Coalition. Leaders in the coalition, spearheaded by Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties of Illinois, were not present. But Martinez of The Civil Rights Agenda did attend and explained possible timelines for the bill.

Some have expressed hope that the bill could see a vote during a special summer session, while Harris has suggested possible action during the fall veto session. If it passed, it would likely not go into effect until June 1.

The meeting was organized by community activists Crain, Ryne Poelker and Lair Scott.

The protest against Michael Madigan will be Saturday at noon outside his district office, 6500 South Pulaski Road.

Details of the July 13 March in downtown Chicago have yet to be finalized.

Two other upcoming protests were also mentioned, including this Sunday against the appearance of Cardinal George at the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian outreach, Our Lady of Mt. Carmen Catholic Church, 708 W. Belmont, Sunday at 7 p.m. Rainbow Sash and GLN are coordinating the protest. Also mentioned was a rally planned for the night of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8, held the evening of the decision at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted.

Organizers of this meeting said they will be hosting a followup meeting Tuesday, June 18 at a South Side location, and that they will announce this location soon.

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